EXCLUSIVE: Not long to wait! Racing in advanced talks with government about allowing spectators to return… with test event expected to be held in the coming weeks
- Talks are now at an advanced stage to see racing welcome back spectators
- While the number would be limited, it would represent a huge boost to the sport
- Racing would become the first sport to gain government approval for the move
- Premier League clubs are likely to watch on with interest as to how racing fares
Racing is close to becoming the first sport to gain approval for the limited return of spectators, with talks at an advanced stage over a holding a test event with a small crowd in the next few weeks.
Sportsmail has learned that negotiations between the Racecourse Association and the Department for Culture Media and Sport are close to completion, and an announcement regarding a meeting in late July or early August is expected in the next few days.
While details of the meeting in question have yet to be finalised it is understood that the discussions have focused on meetings held at large, independent courses that would ordinarily attract a significant crowd, which in this case will be limited to a maximum of 25 per cent capacity, although that figure is subject to change.
Cheltenham Festival in March was the last time spectators could attend racing but the sport is now in advanced talks with government about being able to welcome a limited number back
The King George VI meeting at Ascot on Saturday July 25 has been mentioned as a possibility, but given the short turnaround time Glorious Goodwood the following week may prove more realistic.
Goodwood are understood to be particularly keen to admit some of their members and have discussed holding a ballot to determine who would be able to attend, and on which day.
Racing was the first sport to emerge from lockdown following a 76-day absence with a meeting at Newcastle on June 1, since then Royal Ascot, the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Derby and the Oaks at Epsom have all been staged successfully without crowds.
Racing was the first sport to make its return following the hiatus for the Covid-19 pandemic
Huge crowds were present at Cheltenham but any return would begin with small numbers
As an outdoor sport that takes place on large, expansive grounds racing is well-suited to accommodate social distancing requirements for spectators, a point that has been made during positive discussions with government.
The return of spectators would be a huge boost for racing, which has accumulated huge losses from disappearance of ticketing and hospitality revenue, as well as a decline in the gambling levy in the absence of on-course bookmakers.
Several enterprising courses have reopened as hospitality venues in the last week, with Newbury staging a ‘Pub in the Paddock’ event for 300 people on Derby Day last Saturday.
The racing test event will be watched closely by administrators in other sports, who are all eager to secure the return of fans as soon as possible.
Premier League clubs have expressed hope that that some season-ticket holders will be able to attend matches when next season starts in September, county cricket clubs want to welcome spectators to the Twenty20 Blast that will take place the same month, while the RFU are targeting a crowd of 40,000 for England’s first game since lockdown against the Barbarians at Twickenham in October.
Premier League teams will watch with interest as they assess when fans can safely return